Detail from Arrangement in Grey and Black (Portrait of Whistler's Mother), 1871; Oil on canvas, 144.3 x 162.5 cm; Musée d'Orsay, Paris

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Portrait of James WhistlerJames Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834–1903)
Whistler was the son of a railway engineer, born in Lowell, Massachusetts, but throughout his life he pretended to be a Southern gentleman. He was, in most imaginable ways, self-invented. Like West, he was irked by the low status America accorded its artists. His solution was not to attach himself to a court, as West did, but to depart for Paris and London and pretend to be a native aristocrat from an America he would never revisit. Perhaps his fixation on rank was impressed early: he was partly raised in Russia, where his father was designing the St. Petersburg-Moscow railway for Czar Nicholas I. It may have been reinforced at the military academy at West Point, from which he flunked out in 1854 for his cluelessness about chemistry. "Had silicon been a gas," he would say later, "I would have been a major general." [Read More...]